Sunday, June 19, 2016
How Much we are Like Them
In preparation for Father's Day, my husband posted a photo of his father on Facebook, along with the comment, "In the past few years, I have discovered I am more like him than I ever dreamed possible."
Reading through all the letters Frank Stevens sent home from the war front during the mid 1940s revealed to us a personality that was as uncanny as it was familiar. True, those first five years of life are the most formative ones, but still—how did this father imprint so much of his character on a son who never saw him again after that young age? There is something intangibly lasting about what we are gifted with by our own fathers.
After I lost my own dad, my visits to my brother often substituted for a "dose" of the man who was no longer here. As he aged, it was amazing to see how much a son could turn into his own father, yet somehow be entirely his own person.
That scenario is shared by so many of us—though perhaps not yearned for quite so much when we have that person in our lives and can interact with him any time we wish. It's accentuated, though, with that keenly-felt vacancy after a dad is no longer with us.
Yesterday, my husband attended a graduation ceremony for the daughter of his best friend. Her dad couldn't be there himself because...well...he died of cancer five years ago. But she and her sister brought a poster of their dad to include in all the photos commemorating the day. As they were making memories, they wanted to include his memory. In a way, it was as if they could feel his presence with them. Perhaps he may have been—not just near, but inside.
In a way, we are our father's presence. The code that made our dad who he was is also part of who we are.
Perhaps that's why adoptees yearn so much to learn who their birth parents were. They have something inside them that seeks to connect with an external manifestation of the physical appearance of that reality built inside them. It's already in there; it wants to find the one out there who mirrors what they know is inside. Whether they ever find a physical presence to hang that yearning upon is immaterial. The presence is already there.
There may be some who have had a rocky relationship with their own father. Maybe some who turned out to hate their own father. As much as there are some who would beam with pride at the comment, there are some who recoil at the accusation, "You're just like your father!" Or would just as soon never see their father again.
But it's too late for that. In a real way, your father is in you. Whether you ever become "like" your father, that code making him who he was is in you, too, making you who you are. That DNA is a powerful messenger.
On Father's Day, we think in terms of what we can give our fathers as a token of our appreciation. In reality, it is our fathers who have already gifted us. Whether we're grateful for—or disappointed in—that gift is immaterial. It's an indelible gift which keeps on giving, whether our fathers are here with us, celebrating their day, or only in our memory.
Above: "An Old Man and his Grandson," 1490 tempera painting by Italian Renaissance artist Domenico Ghirlandaio; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.